I love stake high councilors. Really — I do. My dad was a high councilor. My brothers have all been high councilors. To this very day some of my best friends are high councilors.
But Ive got to tell you that I used to cringe every time a high councilor started into a Sacrament Meeting talk about tithing. You just knew that sooner or later he was going to ask us to open our scriptures to the third chapter of Malachi, where the prophet solemnly asks, "Can a man rob God?" after which he reminds us how we do so by withholding our tithes and offerings. Then Malachi urges us to "bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:8-10).
It's right about there that I used to tune out. And not because I didnt believe the scripture, because I did. Throughout our marriage my wife, Anita, and I always paid our tithing. Well, OK — ALMOST always. We were pretty flighty about it at first. And there were a couple of years when we had to borrow money to make it through tithing settlement (the write-out-the-checks-but-don't-turn-them-in-until-December plan didn't work very well for us).
But for the most part, we paid our tithing. And I was ready and willing for those heavenly windows to pop open and make us rich.
Or at least well-to-do.
An unrealistic expectation? Probably. But once again, I blame the high council. They're the ones who tell those faith-promoting stories about folks who use their last dime to pay tithing, and then the next day they get a phone call from Ed McMahon saying they won the sweepstakes — and by the way, Ed wants to know, where should they park the trucks filled with money?
Please don't misunderstand. I dont doubt that tithing miracles happen. They just didnt seem to happen to us. For some reason, back in those days if we got a phone call the day after we paid our tithing it was Sears wanting to know why our payment was late.
Still, we paid our tithing, and not because it paid rich financial dividends. We paid tithing because we loved the Lord, and He asked us to. And yes, I recognize that compared to a lot of people we were greatly blessed. We had a roof over our heads and clothes to wear, and you only had to take one look at me to know that we didnt miss many meals.
But I've got to be honest. I always wondered about Malachi, and why his promise seemed to apply so literally — and so materialistically — to others when it looked like I was going to have to wait until I could personally pry those windows of heaven open for myself and my family.
Then I started thinking about the rest of Malachi's promise — the part I missed after I tuned out during the high councilor's talk: "And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground, neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3:11).
When I was a missionary teaching the concept of tithing to investigators I often skipped over this verse since it obviously applied to farmers and I didn't teach many farmers during my two years in San Diego. But my then-11-year-old daughter, Andrea, offered another interpretation one day over Sunday dinner as she told us about a Primary lesson on the subject.
"When we pay tithing," she declared, "the Lord blesses us by blessing our work."
Now, I'm sure that every other adult in the Church clearly understood that concept, but to me it was a revelation, so I asked Andrea where she got it.
"It's in the scriptures," she said through a mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy. "Mahonri-something."
"You mean Malachi?"
"I guess," she shrugged. "It talks about blessing your crops, but Sister Ivie said that since most of us aren't farmers, it means that Heavenly Father will bless whatever work we do."
For some reason, a light clicked on in my brain. With a little help from a wise and wonderful Primary teacher named Lorna Ivie, Andrea helped me see that Malachi wasn't promising bundles of cash falling out of the clear blue sky. Rather, "Heavenly Father will bless whatever work we do." How many times had that happened to us? The part-time jobs that kept us going during our college days. The newspaper internship that fell into our laps and opened the door to a career. And the freelance projects that always seem to come along right when we need them.
Like the time we were down to our last $12 with more than a week to go until payday. Brother Garrison called and asked me to help with a quick writing project for his business. It only took a few hours, and he paid us $200 — more than enough to get us by until pay day.
That's the way Heavenly Father blesses our family for paying tithing. He doesn't send a million dollars when $200 will do. He rebukes the devourer by opening up the windows of heaven and pouring out work we can do to earn what we need. He fulfills Malachi's promise to us through someone like Brother Garrison — who, you should know, just happened to be a member of our stake high council.
And don't you just love those guys?